By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published February 7, 2008
Catholic Schools Week traditionally gives a lot of attention to students, but the celebration would not be complete without honoring the educators who help them on their way.
On Feb. 2, the weeklong celebration in the archdiocese appropriately concluded with the first Archbishop’s Banquet for Catholic Education, a ceremony recognizing the teachers, faculty and staff of Catholic schools in North Georgia, particularly one outstanding educator from each school.
The sold-out event, held at the Cobb Galleria Centre, began with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. The archbishop, who was assisted by 11 priests, noticed the strong support of the community as he commented on the size of the crowd during his greeting.
“There is something that moves a pastor’s heart when there is a standing-room only assembly of people,” he said as the crowd gave a unified chuckle. “So I welcome all of you to this first annual archbishop’s banquet to honor those who make Catholic education, and Catholic schools, possible.”
A social reception followed Mass, giving clergy, parents and teachers the opportunity to see old friends, catch up on personal experiences and show their support for the ministry of Catholic education.
“I think it is very important to have an event like this to acknowledge the work of educators in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, for continuing the education tradition as well as the possibility of encouraging students to look at vocations,” said JoAnn McPherson, assistant principal at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Fairburn, who was one of those honored.
While people enjoyed one another’s company, school representatives were available to answer parents’ questions. Complete with music provided by a string trio from Holy Spirit Preparatory School, the reception fostered a friendly spirit, which was evident in the smiles and laughter that could be seen and heard by any passers-by.
The crowd eventually filed into the banquet hall, where they were greeted by a slideshow of students from Catholic schools. The attendees took their places at the tables, which were decorated with beautiful floral arrangements, as the program began with a welcome from FOX 5 news anchor Russ Spencer.
“Welcome to the first annual archbishop’s banquet for Catholic education,” said Spencer to thunderous applause. “It is a pleasure to be with you tonight because all of us want to show appreciation for how important you educators are.”
Spencer then invited Msgr. Joseph Corbett, vicar general, to the stage to lead the assembly in prayer before the meal.
“Lord, send your Spirit upon the teachers and chaplains of our schools,” prayed Msgr. Corbett. “Fill them with wisdom and your blessings. Let them strive to share their knowledge with gentle patience.”
After the meal, Archbishop Gregory took the stage to deliver the evening’s keynote address.
“Thanks to all of you for beginning what I believe is a wonderful tradition here in the archdiocese to honor a number of the extraordinarily generous, confident and loving people who make Catholic schools work here in this wonderful community,” said the archbishop.
He continued to extend his appreciation to those involved with Catholic education and touched on the importance of giving children the opportunity to attend a Catholic school. Archbishop Gregory also spoke about the importance of education at home and how that must be nurtured in Catholic schools.
Following the archbishop’s comments, awards were given to one staff member from each of the 24 local archdiocesan and independent Catholic schools. The honorees, who have been at their schools for at least three years, were chosen for their positive impact on staff, students and parents and for the way they celebrate the values of Catholic education.
Recipients, escorted by their principals, came forward individually to receive their awards from Archbishop Gregory and Superintendent of Schools Diane Starkovich.
Also honored during the banquet was Msgr. James Fennessy, who was nominated for the National Catholic Educational Association Distinguished Pastor Award. Msgr. Fennessy, pastor of St. Jude the Apostle Church, Atlanta, received his special certificate of recognition from Starkovich and the archbishop.
In concluding remarks, Starkovich said the banquet was the beginning of a “wonderful tradition.”
“It has been my privilege to serve for almost two years as the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Atlanta,” she said. “Our theme this week has been ‘Catholic Schools Light the Way.’ What have we done this week to light the way? We have had a spelling bee, an art show, we completed service projects … and we are ending with a wonderful tradition at the end of Catholic Schools Week with our first archbishop’s education banquet.”
Dan Wiseman, Catholic schools development director for the archdiocese, planned the banquet.
“We are so blessed in this archdiocese to have so many dedicated and motivated people,” Wiseman said.